NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Zoom is useful tool for meetings, social interaction in spite of abuses

As with any good communication tool, someone will always find a way to profane it and use it for nefarious purposes. That doesn’t necessarily make the tool a bad thing. It means customers need to employ caution and common sense to use it wisely.

Zoom, a videoconferencing service developed for meetings and webinars, has blossomed into a wildly popular forum for all kinds of social interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in an explosion in the number of users between December and March from 10 million to 200 million.

As a recent article in the Los Angeles Times pointed out, at a time of social distancing in which gathering in groups is either banned or highly discouraged, the Zoom app has been connecting people for nearly every kind of social function, including funeral services, exercise sessions, Passover and Easter.

Local school teachers are using it to connect to their students during the coronavirus lockdown.

As participants in a Zoom gathering sign in online with the proper technological devices, each person appears in a box on the screen, similar to FaceTime or Skype, so all those joining in can see one another and interact.

Because Zoom is easy to use, it has also been easy for troublemakers to exploit the app. Reports of trolls crashing meetings and flashing porn or racist slurs on screens or even the hacking of information from such virtual gatherings have caused Zoom users to wonder if they should avoid using the popular service.

According to the Times, researchers have reported vulnerabilities, such as leaked emails and bugs that might have allowed hackers to access webcams.

Earlier this month, the newspaper said, “Google warned employees not to use Zoom’s desktop application on their work computers ‘due to privacy and security vulnerabilities.’ SpaceX, the U.S. Senate and New York City’s school district have enacted similar restrictions.”

So what does that mean to our local teachers, for example, many of whom are using Zoom for weekly meetings with their students? Is it safe to use the free version of Zoom’s videoconferencing app for virtual birthday parties and for people secluded at home to stay in touch with their families, friends and co-workers?

The answer, according to the multimedia technology website verge.com, is “yes,” as long as you set it up properly.

A backlash over the apparent lack of security for users, forced Zoom to establish additional security measures, such as automatically enabling virtual waiting rooms and passwords for accounts in its free or lowest-cost paid accounts. Those additional measures help make it less likely that users will encounter unwanted intrusions into their get-togethers.

The Times reports that the company appears to be taking more urgent steps toward identifying and fixing vulnerabilities. It hired former chief security officer Alex Stamos of Facebook as an advisor and put together an advisory group of chief security officers from other companies as well.

With the uproar over security breeches and “Zoombombing” (when uninvited participants interrupt or derail a meeting), it’s wise to know how to ensure the security of your virtual gatherings.

Some examples of steps you can take include being careful about how you share meeting IDs. Don’t post them publicly. Organizers may create a new ID for every meeting they launch by using the options panel.

Another safety measure is the virtual waiting room, which lets the organizer control who has access to the meeting.

Meeting organizers can also lock a Zoom session once it has begun so that no one else can join — like closing the classroom door after the bell. Once students have joined the session, then click “Participants” at the bottom of the Zoom window and click the button that says “Lock Meeting.”

That’s one of the security features offered in “Best Practices for Securing Your Virtual Classroom” offered by Zoom on its website.

For more details about measures to ensure security, go to Zoom’s site for privacy and security at https://zoom.us/docs/en-us/privacy-and-security.html? or check out verge.com’s tips at https://www.theverge.com/2020/4/17/21196104/how-to-keep-your-zoom-meetings-safe-security-privacy.


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